Celebrating Release day today for The Zealots by G.K. Johson!
Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time
Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time he had awakened without the heavy weight pressing down on him. He carried it like a bag of stones, dragging the weight through the streets, onto his fishing vessel, to the market, and back home every day.
The afternoon and evening hours, free of distractions and when he most needed sleep, were the worst. He could feel the pressure on his chest, crushing the life out of him, and bruising his heart and ribs. If it were a real sack of rocks, the bag would have been torn open by now and the stones inside strewn in his wake. But it wasn’t real and tangible, it only felt so, and he couldn’t shake the burden as much as he wished he could.
Shim’on lay in bed wishing he didn’t have to get up and go to the lake. In fact, he wished he hadn’t woken up at all. Yes, that’s exactly how he felt. He glanced over at his immah, who made the evening meal quietly attuned to her sons’ much-needed sleep. Shim’on watched immah’s movements. Maybe she wanted to keep her thoughts to herself.
He could never tell her his thoughts
The vision haunted him. Watching the Romans kill his abba happened over and over.
He knew the darkness inside him would scare her, and she was already scared enough. He knew abba’s Miriam needed him now, but she seemed to be grieving alone. Grief absorbed her not only because of the loss of her husband but also because of the depression and silence of her eldest son.
Shim’on sighed, the weight heavier than ever on his chest.
Looking back on that night, he cursed his cowardice. With his dagger, he could have at least tried to save his abba. Now Yitzchak was gone, and Shim’on felt crippled by the guilt and anger he carried. He was letting his immah down. He was letting Hanoch down. Even Yitzchak must be disappointed if he could see him now.
When Shim’on returned to their home that first night without Yitzchak, Hanoch had pushed him furiously. Deep in grief, Shim’on realized his brother couldn’t understand why he’d gone to Bin-yamin and Yeshua rather than to his own brother. Shim’on tried to explain, but Hanoch refused to accept his answer. His brother remained angry and hurt since that day, an invisible wall rising between them. Shim’on couldn’t blame him.
Reluctantly now, Shim’on pushed himself up from his mat and put on his leather sandals. His day as a fisherman was just beginning.
He performed netilat yadayim, pouring the water over his hands using a clay basin and cup. He nudged Hanoch awake from where he slept on an adjacent mat and waited as his brother readied himself. The young men ate a hasty meal before leaving.
Closing the door behind them, they began their short walk to the shore. Months ago, Yitzchak, Shim’on, and Hanoch had chattered loudly and happily as they made their way to the sea. Back then, Miriam laughingly teased that they were like the Shabbat shofar, letting the neighborhood know that night was falling.
Since Yitzchak’s death, the walk between brothers was made in silence
Reaching the shore, Shim’on strode down to the water’s edge and knelt. He scooped handfuls of the cold water to wash his face and wake himself up. Meanwhile, Hanoch commenced unfurling the sails.
Shim’on climbed back up the shore and into the boat, smoothing his hand over the boat’s cedar planking. The vessel was twenty-three-feet long and seven-feet wide and required a crew of five men to operate. It contained room for twelve to thirteen passengers, though they seldom had any though, after Yitzchak’s death, Shim’on had hired another man for their crew.
With a flat bottom allowing it to be pulled ashore, the crew was able to unload a catch quickly and efficiently. He joined his brother and their hired men, Demas, Tertius, and Gaius, as they deftly prepared the nets and hoisted the sails to take them to the middle and deepest part of the lake.
“Ready?” Hanoch glanced towards Shim’on. He nodded.
Hanoch and Tertius jumped from the boat and pushed it back into the water, then pulled themselves over the railing.
The warm wind filled the sails and they moved from shore. Shim’on took a deep breath of fresh air and exhaled. This was truly the one place where the weight lay lightest on his shoulders. He still felt it of course, but the physical demands of fishing distracted him from the constant thoughts battling in his mind. Gusts caused the boat to dip while skipping over the choppy water kicked spray against his face. Light from the full moon above them glanced off the waves, surprisingly bright. His abba had loved it out here too, and Yitzchak always had a knack for knowing where the fish would be from day to day.
“Adonai told me to fish at the north end today boys,” he would say, or “Adonai is good, He sent me a dream that we will fill a net just off the shore.” His sons and the other fishermen had often teased Yitzchak about his heavenly directives but more often than not, Yitzchak was right, and they would bring in a good night’s catch.
Eight hours into the wet smell of the sea, wet ropes, and the dripping sweat of labor, Demas appeared right. They pulled in yet another net filled with musht, enough fish to finally necessitate returning to shore to sort and unload.
The anchor rope glistened as Hanoch and Shim’on pulled it hand over hand into the boat. The sky began to brighten with dawn’s soft hues. One of the men raised the sail to catch the wind at their backs.
Shim’on manned the tiller as he pointed the vessel back to shore. Twenty feet from the shoreline, Hanoch jumped over the side of the boat. The water came to his waist as he guided the boat in with a rope and secured it onshore. Other fishermen were unloading their catches as well, and Shim’on felt pleased to see that their own was one of the largest. A proud smell of his full net was the scent of dinner and a roof over their heads.
Wives, daughters, and young boys not yet old enough to be learning a trade awaited their men on the shore.
The men would sort the day’s catch onto carts, and donkeys would then pull their loads into town to be sold by the women at the market. Since they had been forced to give their donkey to the soldiers before Yitzchak’s death, a neighboring family shared the use of their donkey until Yitzchak, now Shim’on, could afford to buy one.
Miriam stepped forward from where she waited with the neighbor women and walked toward her sons as they jumped off the boat into the sandy gravel.
“Looks like a good catch last night?” She looked questioningly at Hanoch and Shim’on.
“A very good catch, Immah!” Hanoch grinned at her, “Perhaps good enough to have lamb tonight?” Shim’on could see the joy her youngest son’s teasing brought Miriam. “That could be possible,” she grinned, and sobered as she looked at her eldest.
She looked from one brother’s face to the other, “Yitzchak would be so proud of you both.” Her eyes became misty, “He always said you two were going to be better fishermen one day than he ever was.”
Shim’on felt her words briefly puncture the hard shell that surrounded his heart and he could see his abba’s smiling eyes and hear his deep voice. The memories flooded him with grief, and he felt tears spring to his eyes. Abba had no reason to be proud of him now. Ashamed, he ducked his head and gathered up a handful of nets.
“Come, Hanoch.” he said more harshly than he knew was fair, “There’s no time to talk. Your work’s not finished.”
Glancing at Immah’s face, he saw the pain that his dismissal of her kind words had caused, and he felt a wash of guilt.
Hanoch stood awkwardly on the shore between them. Shim’on knew his words cut him as well, a sharp departure from the laughter they had shared a short time before. The other fishermen onshore continued their work, though Shim’on could see that some of them noticed the scene escalate.
Despair gutted him. Angry and bitter, the hungry wolves encircled his soul. Dark thoughts returning, chest constricted, he could hardly breathe. Distracted, he paused in his work. Arching his back, he released his anguish to the dawn.
Despite the beautiful pink and purple streaked sky shouting to make way for the day, darkness hung over Shim’on. Thoughts threaded their way deeper and deeper into the fabric of his being, leading the way to a dark pit. If only I had done more, he would not have died, he thought. But I didn’t, and he is dead. What kind of son am I? I’m worthless. Surely Adonai has turned His back on me. I haven’t even avenged Abba’s death. I should have been the one to die. It would have been better that way for everyone.
No longer able to keep the gall inside, he felt words bubbling to the surface.
“We won’t get to keep the money this catch earns us, Hanoch.” Spitting, he smacked his hand on the side of their boat, “So stop thinking of your stomach. Have you already forgotten the reason Abba died? Have you forgotten the money the soldiers demanded from him and that their gift for his death was demanding even more from us?” He was shouting now, and despite the visible hurt on Immah and Hanoch’s faces, he continued.
“I’m doing the best I can, but your laziness is not helping.” His directed words at Hanoch slapped his brother’s face. He knew it wasn’t true but felt trapped by his pain to continue shouting.
“And, I’m sorry I’m not ‘myself,’ Immah,” he aimed these words at Miriam, sarcastically mimicking her comment to Yeshua a few nights before. She flinched. “How do you expect me to be myself? With Abba dead.” The anger was at its peak, “Or don’t you remember?”
With this last comment, Miriam sobbed aloud, and Hanoch stepped forward, hands balled into fists.
“That’s enough, Shim’on.” He heard a slight tremor in his younger brother’s voice. Though two years younger, Hanoch was slightly taller, yet not as muscular. This was the first time Hanoch had dared to oppose him apart from playful roughhousing. Shim’on knew he would beat his brother if it came to it, but he had no real desire to grouse a fight with him.
“It’s enough to disrespect me,” Hanoch said in a low voice, “it’s another thing to speak against our immah.”
Indifference and disdain his pretense, Shim’on scooped up an armful of nets and dragged them toward an inlet further up the shore. Hanoch and Demas were left to tend to the fish and load the cart Miriam would take to the market.
As he made his way down the sandy shoreline, he tried to avoid the curious looks of the other fishermen. But one face caught his eye.
Lydia stood a short distance away, her eyes netted his pride with empathy. Another wave of shame rolled over him. Lydia’s face fell as his eyes hardened. Looking away from her, he continued down the shore. Tears pricked Shim’on’s eyes, but he refused to let them fall. That would be foolish and weak. No, it was better to cover his anguish and guilt.
He swung the nets over to where the Jordan River made its way into the sea, sat heavily, and threw the nets off to his side.
GK Johnson’s debut novel, The Zealots, has arrived. Will Shim’on’s guilt find acquittal or will it drive him to wrong? Will Hanoch accept Shim’on’s excuses and explanations regarding the night of his father’s death, or will he seek revenge?
Find your copy today on Amazon.
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©Capture Books, 2020, and its authors are happily represented by the publicity of Books for Bonding Hearts where you will find several children’s books of high literary quality.
Everyone’s talking about the “New Normal”.
It’s important, though, to remember the former elements of “normal” are still with us, if we will only take a minute to notice.
Take fireflies for instance. What a wonder a single firefly still is to me!
There’s a quote that’s traveled with me for a long time. It’ on my fridge:
Mary Jean Iron
Do not let me pass you by in search of some Rare and Perfect Tomorrow.
This power-packed memento has been a mainstay through all of life’s seasons. With every move, every new fridge, this little saying has traveled with me as a reminder of the splendor in little moments.
The little ordinary moments are ever-present while we sigh and long for:
Brighter tomorrows, better sleep, happier children, perfectly manicured lawns, stronger connections, brighter lighting, exotic destinations, more flawless skin, shinier memories…
Here’s the thing. When we are off chasing after a happier reality, the one we’re IN is quietly passing us by.
I’m not asking you to embrace The Summer of Covid, but I am suggesting you uncover the good stuff inside this interval.
Your “normal” will look different than mine.
The texture of my kiddo’s voice on the phone; it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about – the sound of her voice is life-affirming.
The smell of towels that have been line-dried in fresh air and sunshine.
Summer kids riding by my window on their bikes and skateboards.
Dandelions gone to seed.
- Waking to sunlight,
- That first sip of coffee,
- curbside pickup,
- the hypnotic hum of a lawnmower,
- Old Glory rippling in the breeze.
- a real letter in the mail,
- my music jam,
- fireflies in the whisper of dusk.
Not everything is a joy-bringer; some things are a slog through scary passages.
But still – not everything is skewed into some narrow margin of “the New Normal”.
We can still count on the ordinary, normal things.
And those will sustain us.
Kathy Joy writes for The Daily Jab, for Books for Bonding Hearts, and for her own blog, Coffee with Kathy. You can transition directly from ordinary to extraordinary with her Breath of Joy seasonal coffee table books. Find out more! Sign up here for inspiring posts from this author!
Learn about Kathy Joy’s inspirational gift books on this site.
By Cyndi Kay
Due to social distancing and quarantine requirements, I have noticed that many of us are finding ways to escape the torturous abundance of downtime. Gloom seems to be lurking in the shadows of the unknown. So, let’s talk about some of these escape methods, shall we?
Not homebodies or entertainers, some escape artists feel that “staying put” in a family group has become very trying on their patience.
Now I am not saying this in a bad way, just the opposite, I am just saying some people would rather be outside enjoying our world rather than caught up in the latest Netflix series. Needing the fresh air, these people are the ones you’ll find outdoors building raised flower beds and Koi ponds pretty much all by themselves. Solitude is a valid and beautiful way to get lost. Creating a secret garden is the design and physical digging of dirt and life, a tiny version of the world at home by good and proportional use of God’s creations. It’s a place to bring serenity in the midst of the anxiety created by the unknown.
We move on to those who need to escape to the country. They cannot stay put at home but don’t mind a bit of company in their explorations.
They are not thrilled with flower beds and fishponds. It’s an accomplishment if they get the yard mowed once a week. They need to go. They need to explore. They feel the need to get away from home. So where do we find these gypsy spirited people?
My first guess would be at the nearest lake or river. They could be sitting on the dock fishing and just enjoying the tranquility of wondering whether the fish will actually stay on the hook. Maybe they own a boat and they want to spend time trolling around the lake soaking up the sunshine (if there is any). Though they are not sequestered at home, they are still for the most part social distanced and quarantined.
Another means of escape this way is going on a day trip of exploration. I have a good friend who is one of those non-sit-stillers. She loves to go dancing or alternatively, be outdoors. With dancing clubs shut down, she discovered the option of taking day trips. She recently took a road trip to Arkansas and our newsfeed was full of photos of trains from this trip. Some of us in this narrowing, nervous world want to get out and enjoy the living and free world in which we still live. So, pack a lunch, grab a camera, and load up for a day trip of riding through the country.
Others enjoy staying home to learn a new hobby and escape into some future potential.
These are the introverted, creative ones. Those who do not want to be near anyone in case they don’t know how to behave socially in public, especially since the 6 ft. spacing rule was instituted. They are too busy playing, learning, and experimenting with something imaginative to worry about going out and about. They have learned to build a greenhouse or to crochet, knit, and maybe even sew since there is now a demand for face-masks. Some of them have taken to creating wonderful crafts that would likely be bought up in a heartbeat if all of the summer festivals had not been canceled. These crafters will be thrilled that Hobby Lobby has once again opened their doors. But they’ll need someone else to run and get them the craft supplies.
One of the best ways to evade today’s chaos is to get lost in the pages of a different time and place.
I remember my dad, born in 1918, telling me as though a badge of courage demanded the telling, that he only made to the 6th grade and had to start working to help support the family. I thought about this when I found my own quiet, sunny nook and read a book, actually a series of 2 books, set in the 1920’s.
The 1920s was a time of arranged marriages and families consisting of more than 2.2 children. It was a time when life was hard and if a child graduated 8th grade, then they were considered old enough to be married. The books were written by Tonya Jewel Blessing. The first one was The Whispering of the Willows and the second book was Melody of the Mulberries. Both of these were set in the Appalachian Mountains and revolved around the Ashby family, namely Emie Ashby. Opening the pages of book and partaking in a life that is not our own gets us away from the gloom and doom speculation and allows us to relax. I enjoyed being taken back in time to a place I have never been just so that I could get away from the everyday duties of being home and taking care of the house. I find it humorous that in today’s situation, West Virginia has become the great escape destination. So much so, that Governor Jim Justice has issued new state orders concerning non-residents fleeing to Appalachia to avoid COVID-19.
Overall, the world in which we live is far different than it was just 3 months ago.
As we look back, we already see how much has changed. Gone are the days of hanging out all night at the clubs or coffee shops. We don’t know who has been where or with whom, so we decide that we just can’t risk the health and wellbeing of our families. Even our esteemed Hollywood actors, such as Tom Hanks and his wife, have felt the grips of Covid-19. Into focus has come the question of legalities and civil rights in a whole-county lockdown. As we look back in time, we see how the American way of life has been forever impacted by so many different situations. Whether it be war, terrorism, racial tensions, or viruses, America is not what it once was in the years past.
It is a hard time in this new America of 2020, but nonetheless it is up to us to find the good and know that while we have faith, hope, and love, God has more.
Take this time to cherish the quiet moments of memories that you would have missed had you been rushing through your nightly routine in order to be able to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.
Whether you are finding escape into the earth, into new explorations, into the creative future, or into history, your personal preference will help you reinvent yourself and will offer a peaceful portion to a world engulfed in uncertainty.
Find out more about Cyndi Kay and her writing on her website.
A Short Story by Tonya Jewel Blessing
Author of the Big Creek Appalachian Series
In his younger days, some had called him handsome. Now, old age had set in. He was desperate. Clem knew he wouldn’t last the winter without a woman.
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